Negative Health Outcomes of American Anti-LGBTQ Laws

This entry was one of the winners of our Summer 2023 student blog contest!

Anti-LGBTQ laws are flooding the United States. As of June, a historic 491 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 2023 – a 203% increase from the entire 2022 year. More bills were introduced in the first three months of 2023 than in 2018-2022 combined. 63 of the 491 bills have since become law. These laws focus on the health of LGBTQ children and protecting children from LGBTQ adults. In Utah, SB16 has banned gender-affirming surgeries and hormonal treatments for minors, while SB100 prohibits schools from changing the gender identities of students without parental permission. The other 61 laws are similar, centering on healthcare access and free speech.

It is hardly a debate that social policy acts as health policy. How will these laws—which primarily target LGBTQ youth—impact American health? There are multiple ways in which anti-LGBTQ laws may impact population health.  I argue that anti-LGBTQ laws will negatively impact the entire US by worsening health, increasing healthcare costs, and normalizing discrimination.

Health Throughout Life

Life course scholars have emphasized the importance of childhood in later-life health outcomes (see a related post here). Children are a critical social group: they will become the adults of tomorrow and shape future society. Their health is profoundly important for the future health of the US. Health in childhood and adolescence affects later-life health. Exposure to poor health conditions (e.g., stressful social environments) in childhood can profoundly affect adulthood health. For example, poverty in childhood is associated with chronic health issues of kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other illnesses in adulthood. LGBTQ Americans are already at higher risk for depression and suicide. They are also less likely to engage in preventive healthcare (e.g., cancer screenings) than non-LGBTQ Americans due to minoritization. Anti-LGBTQ laws may put LGBTQ individuals—particularly children—at even higher risk, making the American population sicker and healthcare more expensive.

Additionally, anti-LGBTQ laws exclude and discriminate [PDF] against LGBTQ individuals, further marginalizing an already at-risk group. With these laws, all American children are poised to grow up in a world where LGBTQ discrimination is normalized. Being unable to access healthcare or discuss gender identities may increase mental health disparities and restrict social support for LGBTQ kids. Being able to express gender identity openly is associated with decreased depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among LGBTQ youth.

Anti-LGBTQ laws will promote poor mental health and poor social support among LGBTQ youth and their peers. In turn, such poor mental health and social support are correlated with stress-related risk factors and diseases—e.g., smoking, excessive alcohol intake, obesity, and cardiovascular disease—ultimately exacerbating health inequalities for the LGBTQ community. As a growing portion of US adults identify as LGBTQ, increases in health issues will have ramifications for the entirety of the American population, including decreased population health and increased costs.

Future Effects

How will social laws regarding LGBTQ healthcare and free speech affect the future American population? Growing up in a hostile environment will undoubtedly affect LGBTQ children’s health and well-being for years to come. We may not fully understand the impacts of anti-LGBTQ laws until these cohorts are in adulthood. At that point, it will be far too late for their health, population health, and healthcare costs. For the future of the US, it is necessary to oppose anti-LGBTQ bills passing into law. Indeed, the United Nations, including the World Health Organization, has called for the elimination of such discriminatory policies. Rather than removing their rights, we should be giving kids additional social and economic support. Children and adolescents deserve care and support to be who they are for the sake of the nation.

Use this ACLU widget to see which anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in your state.

Anna Shetler

Anna Shelter is a graduate student in Sociology and Criminology / Demography at Penn State.

Anna Shetler

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